Dear Mr. Bagel Man,
You probably don’t remember me. I sat in your cafe a few years back, eating a bagel with my family. My husband and oldest boy (who was three at the time) sat on one side of the table while I sat on the other side with our two week old newborn. My baby was hungry so I fed him without even thinking twice. I had breastfed my first born everywhere and anywhere without anyone batting an eyelid. Little was I to know this breastfeeding experience would be quite different. All of a sudden I heard your voice, “there is a bathroom down the hallway.” You said quite abruptly. “What?” I asked, having no idea what you were talking about. Again you told me about the bathroom down the hall. All of a sudden my sleep deprived cloud of motherhood cleared and I understood what you were saying. I asked, “so if I was feeding him with a bottle that would be OK?”. You simply replied, “yes” and stood there staring at me. I was silenced by shock. Ask my husband and anyone who knows me well…this does not happen often. I did not know what to say so we immediately got up and left. Thankfully my husband thought of something to say along the lines of, “it’s the twentieth century mate!” I sat in the car and cried as we pulled out of the parking lot.
I wish I could have told you, “the fact that you are sexualizing my breasts is not my issue!” I wish I would have said, “I am protected by law to breastfeed!’ (even though I actually don’t know if this was true at the time in Maine, USA). I wish I would have said something besides mentioning a bottle. But I was exhausted. My face was still puffy from being pregnant only two weeks before I walked in there. I was wearing breast pads and my breasts leaked as I sat here eating the bagel you sold me. I had woken up about five times the night before, was pooped on and also settled my three year old at some point in the night. We had been traveling from my parent’s house. I was exhausted. I was a new mum just feeding her baby. There was no Facebook to post this encounter. There was no Twitter so I could tweet my experiences and what you had said to me. I was silenced then but not anymore.
Maybe my baby was hungry, maybe he was bored, maybe he was thirsty. You see, I know that you probably did not know why babies breastfeed so frequently and might have to eat while their mum happens to be eating a bagel in your cafe. You probably did not think about what it would be like for me and my baby to sit on a toilet while smelling poop and staring at the feminine hygiene bucket as my family waited outside for me eating their bagels in the sunlight. You were too focused on being uncomfortable because you were too busy sexualizing my breasts…
Instead of you and your customers listening to my crying baby while I tried to find the pacifier in my bag, he did not even make a sound as I could just pop him on. Instead of having to prepare a bottle while trying to keep him happy and quiet, I could just pop him on. Instead of trying to figure out what was wrong while he cried and carried on, I could just pop him on. Instead of having to apologize to you for my baby who was upset in your tiny café, I could just pop him on. He was peaceful, he was happy and we were quiet.
I’d really love to tell you to fuck off. But I won’t. That would just be my ego talking. Instead I’ll leave you with this picture instead and then say the following…
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to see just how humiliating this is for the thousands of women who experience this similar situation around the world. Thank you for allowing me to see just how long these feelings of anger and dismay last for. Thank you for giving me the wind behind my little boobie sails to keep fighting to empower women and be the voice that they might not have, just like myself the day you told me to go and breastfeed in the toilet. Thank you for showing just how much of a problem this continues to be. Thank you for being another example of just how sad our society has become, and continues to be.
Our fight is not over. Almost daily, within the media there are stories just like this one of women being asked to stop breastfeeding and go somewhere else. Frequently I see women hiding their babies under blankets while breastfeeding. I saw this in the USA and I see it here in Australia where I am currently living with my family. Some might see it as modesty; I see it as a sad reflection on our society and the sexualization of lactating breasts. It is not about us, it is not about me, it is not about the people in the store or café or plane…it is simply about our babies. They have a right to eat, drink, relieve their pain and find comfort in the boob no matter where they happen to be. I am a breastfeeding mum turned International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. I am trying to be the voice that has been silenced through bullying. I fear my fight will never be over but I am also comforted by the fact that I can continue to breastfeed whenever and where I am. I continued to feed the baby you met for three years everywhere I went.
Without a blanket and never in a toilet. I am currently breastfeeding my third who is now twenty months old. I breastfeed him in the park, on planes, in restaurants, while drinking coffee and yes…while eating bagels in a café. Your actions have made me stronger and will continue to fuel the fire within me.
Mum of three and voice for all those breastfeeding mums who need one.